Ex-Defence chief leads Pike recovery agency

Dave Gawn is confident recovery of the Pike mine drift would be achieved by March 2019. Photo:...
Dave Gawn is confident recovery of the Pike mine drift would be achieved by March 2019. Photo: Greymouth Star

Greymouth-based Pike River Recovery Agency chief executive Dave Gawn is not daunted by the prospect of being liable if anything goes wrong in any future recovery operation.

"I was liable, as chief of arms (in the army) as well," Mr Gawn (59) who was until recently a major-general in the New Zealand Defence Force, said.

"This was pumped up a lot in the media before Christmas and it doesn't concern me at all. Any chief executive is fully liable for work health and safety," Mr Gawn said.

Under health and safety laws Mr Gawn would be personally liable, even though the final decision to enter the mine would be made by the Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-entry, Andrew Little.

The National Party's Amy Adams has said it is wrong for a public servant to be placed in this situation, stating the Labour-led coalition Government had gone against official advice by making the final decision maker independent of politicians.

The Opposition has said also that talk of manned re-entry had turned to manned re-entry of the drift only, that is, the stone tunnel leading to the mine.

Mr Gawn had his first day on the job this week with the formal opening of the new government department by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, in Greymouth yesterday.

He said he was confident recovery of the drift would be achieved by March 2019.

"I wouldn't be here if I wasn't confident. That doesn't mean that it will not be complex or technical but experts I've spoken to say it's very doable, although there are the unknowns.

"There's a lot of variations in terms of the weather, but talking to experts who know how to do recovery, they believe it can be done within that time, all things being equal."

He promised the agency would be fully open about its operations.

"There won't be any spin; it'll be truly transparent in alliance with the families and their technical panel."

Mr Gawn had been attracted to the job because he considered it "worthwhile".

He had the chance of working in either New York or Greymouth, and he chose Greymouth.

"I like the fact it is operational, complex and with a technical aspect, and it's good to be here on the West Coast and to do something in New Zealand after two and a half years overseas.

"The chance to explore and live in an area that is unique was too good to pass."

Mr Gawn stepped down from the NZ Defence Force recently after being stationed in the Middle East with the United Nations, based in Jerusalem.

A staff of nine will be based in the Greymouth office and Mr Gawn expects all appointments to be made by the end of February.

A technical panel of experts will be established in partnership with the Pike River families and the technical experts they have on board.

"There's a lot of goodwill in the international mining community and we've had conversations with mining experts the families have from the UK, South Africa, Australia as well as New Zealanders," Mr Gawn said.

-  By Chris Tobin

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